Saturday, April 05, 2014

Ash, Trembling Aspen, and Lime; or F, G, and Cantus Firmus

Lars von Trier's latest narrative proves that he's continually succeeded in refining his vision and remains a voice to be heard. Piracy of downloads, torrents, and screeners is fucking bullshit. This whole obsession with watching the newest releases before they are released is senseless. It just pisses me off a little that a film worthy of a theatrical screening like von Trier's latest is subject to a bunch of fanboys and dilettantes watching it on their laptops and dismissing it as lackluster while it screens in theatres across the world.


Nymphomaniac (2013, Lars von Trier) opens with a nearly artificial mechanically-precise choreographed set piece in a dark corner of a European neighborhood where Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lays prostrate eating wet cobblestone, by chance to be discovered by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) on his way to the corner market for a few groceries. The sound design begins as silence combines with subtle natural ambience to evoke a tranquil vacuum until inexplicably non-diegetic Scandanavian Heavy Metal ruptures the calm surface.

The narrative is told in eight chapters.

Joe is the titular nymphomaniac who recounts her life to the mild-mannered Selig. Joe's father took her for walks as a girl and taught her about trees. Selig's an elderly eccentric whose body of knowledge draws from the Fibonacci numbers, Bach, and fly fishing. The lives of these characters are fully realized and provide the foundation of this fictional world.

It's the women whose performances are the pith. Stacy Martin is the twentysomething ingenue who takes the foreground and follows in the footsteps of Emily Watson, Björk, Nicole Kidman, Kirstin Dunst, and Gainsbourg. Martin as the nymph provocateur is exquisitely and classically radiant with a timeless beauty--large pock marks above her right eyebrow distinguish her youthful moneymaker mug. And kewpie doll Mia Goth cunningly demures her own wiles. But Charlotte Gainsbourg is back for her three-peat and once again masters a tough task. Father Time has caught up with plastic surgery-faced Uma Thurman, but as Mrs. H she rightly steals her chapter. "Would it be alright if I showed the children the whoring bed, they have a stake in this too?" might be this season's "Chaos Reigns."

While on the other hand, Kenny Rogers level plastic surgery-deformed Christian Slater somehow manages to perform underwhelmingly in his chapter, "Delirium." You call that dementia? But I'm being too harsh. The "Delirium" chapter feels like 60s Bergman, and the composition from between Joe's legs at the moment she reveals: "I lubricated," is the stuff int'l arthouse fare is best known for.

Shia's good. His mock British accent and formalites are rare form for von Trier--humor. Shia LeBeouf's turn as Jerôme daringly meets its commitment of living up to the type of role that will show audiences he isn't just Sam Witwicky. The business with the cake fork and the rugelach is rich. The moment when Jerôme reproaches Joe and commands for her to submit to "a do-over" is knee-slappingly hysterical.

The narrative is full of invention. Von Trier is back. The on screen text is so novel I'm jealous. Like the red lining of "wh" prefixed words in the railcar for example:

Wh-at time is it?
Wh-ere do you come from?
Wh-o knows how to get to the lavatory?
Comparing jailbait sluts with bait and fishing topography in the reading of the river scene floored me. The "fuck me now clothes" and the lures broke new ground. And while nowhere near as clever, the penis montage is fresh. (As a sidenote, the establishing emergency room exterior shot of sliding doors which precedes the penis montage is taken from the Danish television miniseries The Kingdom (1994-'97, Lars von Trier and Morten Arnfred).)

And another instance of von Trier's self referencing which finds him at his most mischievous is the Antichrist baby on a ledge lark cued with Handel's "Lascia ch'io pianga" aria. It was weird that I laughed so hard at this in the theater because the people around me didn't seem to get the reference and I felt like they might think I was laughing at an infant meeting an Eric Clapton fatality--not funny.

The amount of inserts in Nymphomaniac is staggering. This is von Trier writing with film. ("Film" is what I call HD video, in case anyone is too young to know what film is.) But Nymphomaniac also feels to me the closest von Trier has come to the structure of the novels of say, Marquis de Sade or Marcel Proust. Joe drops allusions to novels and films, which is meta but not postmodern. Von Trier's form is classical. And this is practically a linear narrative, told through flashbacks.

The whallup of an ending surprised me. Von Trier is saying that no matter how much guys pretend to study sexuality or be interested in sexuality, they're really thinking about fucking and kidding themselves. And according to the laws of nature, if you treat the wrong creature as a sex object, be prepared for the consequences.

There are many tough sequences in this film. Bondage is just weird to me. I should be more open minded. I really wanted to empathize with Joe, but I can't. Nor do I have to. This film is about seeing things through Joe's eyes.

And I thought the ski-masked bikini girls in Spring Breakers were smutty? The image of naked Charlotte Gainsbourg between two fully erect black penises went all Mapplethorpe and shit and the spoils should go to von Trier.

--Dregs




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